The Neighborhood

America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places

In 2008, the Peace Bridge Neighborhood was named to The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2008 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The annual list highlights important examples of the nation’s architectural, cultural and natural heritage that are at risk for destruction or irreparable damage.

Learn more about the National Trust for Historic Preservation, view the complete list of Endangered Places and read about the Peace Bridge Neighborhood, which is also below.

11 Most Endangered Historic Places

Peace Bridge Neighborhood

Year Listed: 2008
Location: Buffalo, New York
Current Status: Endangered
Threat: Development, Poor Public Policy, Road Construction

Significance

A veritable catalog of American domestic architecture, the Buffalo neighborhoods of Front Park, Prospect Hill and Columbus Park boast a depth of history and sense of place like few others.  The community’s extraordinary collection of homes date back to the 1850s, and are a complement to the visionary park designs of Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr.  Today, the heart of this community stands to be severely compromised by a transportation project for the Peace Bridge, which connects Buffalo on the U.S. side of the Niagara River with Fort Erie in Canada.  Citing congestion and a need to increase vehicle processing capacity and border control activities, the Public Bridge Authority (PBA) plans to expand the existing U.S. transportation plaza.  With construction set to begin as early as 2009, this historic and vital community faces imminent peril.

While various Peace Bridge expansion plans have been proposed and debated for almost 20 years, the scale and destructiveness of this latest proposal is staggering.  In order to increase the existing bridge plaza footprint from 14 to 38 acres and to accommodate a Duty Free shop, visitor’s center and extensive network of new ramps and roadways, the plan calls for the demolition of more than 90 homes, including at least 9 National Register eligible properties; the elimination of streets; the clear cutting of trees; and, the permanent alteration of scenic lake views.  Hundreds of residents would be displaced, several businesses would be relocated and dozens of historic buildings would be adversely affected through the loss of context and profound visual alterations.

In 2007, the Department of Homeland Security suspended negotiations on a Shared Border Management agreement with Canada, which would have allowed for most of the plaza expansion to occur with far less impact on the Canadian side of the bridge.  Instead, the current plan was presented as the sole alternative even though other options exist for configuring and locating the added span and border entry plaza in less sensitive areas, including in the nearby International Railroad Corridor or in other industrial sections of the river.  Despite mounting criticism that PBA has not met their legal obligation to consider other viable solutions, it is poised to begin using its eminent domain capabilities this year.

The immediacy of the threat has brought preservation organizations together in a renewed coalition.  The Preservation League is joining with the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, Preservation Coalition of Erie County, Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier, and members of the community in calling for a full evaluation of direct, indirect and cumulative impacts to the historic properties and landscapes of the neighborhoods.  They continue to execute an extensive education and advocacy campaign that challenges and responds to the threat.

Updates

May 30, 2009: The Peace Bridge Authority has agreed to put off tearing down several homes in the neighborhood until decisions are made on how to expand the U.S. plaza and build a new companion Peace Bridge. Read more.

Federal regulatory review of the project continued during 2008 and 2009.  Public criticism of a range of project elements, including the toll it would take on the historic neighborhood, also continued.  In 2009, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter urged the US State Department and Department of Homeland Security to revisit the possibility of Shared Border Management, to move the border plaza to the Canada side of the Niagara River, where there is plenty of room for the new construction.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed keen interest in reopening the Shared Border Management issue with the Canadian government.